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The Wild Bunch HD DVD review

1663 Views 8 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  Richard W. Haines
I recently purchased the Toshiba HDXA2 player and am now collecting and screening
HD DVD films. Among my first purchases was "The Wild Bunch" in HD DVD.

Of course I have the previous version in standard DVD (anamorphic enhanced).
How dramatic is the difference? Probably not as much as you might imagine if you
have a DVD player that upscales the image. However, the HD version is sharper and
finer grain. As I suspected, the opticals (dissolves, freeze frames, titles) are grainier
than in the standard definition version. Digital exagerates the attributes and liabilities
of the negative. When it's sharp it's ultra sharp and when it's grainy it's noticeably
grainy. A film print tends to blend the differences together whereas digital imagery
calls attention to them.

I would say the projected image on a HD DLP simulates the original Technicolor 35mm
prints accurately, if not improves on the shadow detail. The cinematography is different
to say the least. In general the skies were exposed leaving the fleshtones dark in
some sequences. The HD DVD enables you to see more facial details than in the
original Technicolor prints. It certainly shows the wrinkles, creases and weatherworn
skin of the stars. I don't think the director would've objected. The narrative is about
aging and living beyond your time.

I've never bought Pekinpah's rhetoric about showing graphic violence to
deter violence. The extreme bloodletting in this film is so stylish and extreme,
it's fantasized. Most people think that the director was copying Arthur
Penn's slow motion deaths from "Bonnie and Clyde" but Pekinpah filmed
similar shots in "Major Dundee" back in 1965 and the producer cut them out prior
to release. His blood squibs are very exagerated since unless a bullet hits an
arttery, it won't squirt out the way it does for every wound here. It also appears
that he took sadistic glee in extending a person's agony as they twist and fall
in slow motion before dying. There was a lot of concern about movie violence in
the late sixties ane early seventies with this movie sited as a bad example.
However, that debate usually focussed on the possibility of it being imitated by
impressionable viewers. The gore is so exagerated in this film, I don't believe it's the kind that could be imitated like the violence in "Death Wish" and "Taxi Driver", which inspired real life copycats.

In any event, Pekinpah does accomplishment the difficult task of making dangerous
and ruthless outlaws sympathetic and even likeable although that's primarily because
the so called 'lawmen' are so repellant with the exception of Robert Ryan who is morally
confused over his forced participation as a bounty hunter. It's also quirky to have the
craziest and most revolting character played by Edmund O'Brien the sole survivor of
the bunch.

The movie had a very strange release pattern. It's one of the few features that Pekinpah
had some creative control over but even that was limited. Pekinpah, for all of his unorthodox
attitudes and production techniques, was still a 'work for hire' in 1969. He didn't produce
his own movies (unlike Hitchcock) so his creative control remained within the discretion of the
producer he was working for. He probably didn't have the discipline to produce himself and
his bizarre behavior on and off set didn't inspire a studio to allow him. However, within the
confines of a 'work for hire' job, he was able to put his very off the wall approach to cinema
into play. Apparently Warner Brothers was very nervous about the finished product and went
through it on a frame by frame basis removing as many blood squibs as they could. However,
the way it was filmed and edited meant that the final cut was still the goriest mainstream film
as of 1969 which created a great deal of controversy. Without Pekinpah's approval (not that
they needed it), about 10 minutes of flashback scenes (not gore) was cut after it's initial
release. The press screened the complete version, then the 35mm Technicolor release prints
were physically cut to remove specific scenes to reduce the running time from 145 minutes
to 135 minutes. To make it more confusing, the rare 70mm blow up print (in six track magnetic
stereo) remained intact as did some 35mm Technicolor copies still circulating. Depending on where you
saw the film, you either screened the complete version or the cut version. The same applied
to the revival theaters of the seventies where I first saw the film. The Elgin played the cut
version whereas Cinema Village played the complete version.

In the early nineties, Warner Brothers decided to officially re-release the complete 145 minute
cut. For unknown reasons, they decided to submit it to the MPAA for a rating even though the
complete cut was already classified as "R". The MPAA looked at the exact same 145 minute
version and rated it "NC-17". As a result, WB decided not to re-issue it to mainstream theaters
even although some art houses and rep cinemas booked it. They later appealed the
classification and the MPAA re-rated it "R" since no new footage was incorporated and it had
already been given that rating back in 1969. Yet another tale of the 'Rating's Game'. The movie didn't
have to be 'restored' (despite the claims of WB), since the negative was never cut. Just the
release prints and not even all of them.

The Eurpoean version was always intact and even had an Intermission (rustic lettering for the
card) and Entre-Acte' which occured just before they raided the train. This has not been
included in the US discs although technically they were never part of the US release.

In conclusion, if you don't have a HD DVD player, don't rush out to purchase one just to
see the HD DVD disc. It is better than the standard DVD but not so dramatic as to warrant
an expensive new machine until the format wars play out.

If you have a wife or girlfriend, don't screen it for them. It's definately not a 'chick flick'.
Like most Pekinpah movies, whatever females there are in the movie are untrustworthy
oportunists or whores.
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And thank you for your kind words.
I just watched this movie on Hd DVD over the weekend. It is indeed a classic. A big, wide movie with enough story you could drive a stagecoach through it.

If you've ever enjoyed sweeping adventure films like Lord of the Rings, this is the scope of the Wild Bunch. What I love about the so called revisionist westerns is the unclear divide between "good guy" and "bad guy". The Villains in Wild Bunch included people with a distinct moral compass who were willing to make sacrifices for what they believed in. On the other hand the 'law' in this film are a mostly... well... of much moral ambiguity.

I felt Peckenpah was going for the whole 'anti-violence' message not just from the over-saturated violence that played out on screen but also, consider the scenes at the opening where the kids are playing with the red ants and the scorpion. The ultra-violence is intercut with the children smiling at the life/death struggle they've recreated and eventually, as the gunfire settles down in the town that kills many innocent bystander, the children just ignite the red ants in some kind of fuel and delight at burning the bodies.

I really think Pekenpah was saying something about violence being in our nature.
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I agree that Pekinpah was saying something about violence in our nature but by no means
do I think he was 'anti-violence'. He relished in it, in a sadistic manner. The violence in
this movie isn't repulsive. It's cathargic and almost lyrical. In terms of the script and
dialogue, I recall one of the best lines in Brook's "The Professionals". Lancaster says
something like, "All battles are betweent the good guys and the bad guys...the question is...
who are the good guys". Even the kids in a Pekinpah film are suspect and he had little regard
for women. I guess the only thing the cynical director saw as worthy was 'honor among thieves' and even this couldn't be counted on. Pike's control of his gang is very tentative. They turn on both Angel and him after the first massacre in their aguement about how to share the loot...until they discover there is no loot and they were set up. Later, they all agree to go on a suicide mission to rescue Angel from Mapache knowing they are doomed. One of the stranger touches is that they go for it after visiting a bordello. Everyone except for the Ernest Borgnine character that is. All kinds of strange implications in this film. However, I still don't believe the director's rhetoric in interviews about being anti-violent. This movie certainly isn't nor is "Straw Dogs". In both cases,
the men achieve their honor and dignity through extreme violence, not in turning the other cheek.
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I can see what you're saying, Richard. In that respect whether it's anti-violent or not is not likely the issue with Pekenpah. I really see the statement being made about it being in our nature to kill and even relish in it.

François Truffaut said it was hard to make an anti-war film ... I believe for the exact same reasons Pekenpah probably cannot make one either.

Definitely a classic film, I recommend anyone bored with the writer's strike to try it.

I liked the HD DVD presentation but like Richard says, it's grainy at times. I'm not even sure it needed the HD DVD treatment, but there are some nice visuals in the movie that definitely work in the high def format.

I agree. It's a good film to watch during the strike. Plus, you get some really outrageous
dialogue like when Ryan calls his posse a bunch of "egg suckin', chicken stealin', gutter trash'.
In terms of the grain, it's primarily in the opticals (fades, dissolves, titles) but that's a problem
with all movies in that era.
I love when the guy yells at his buddy... "...you ******* peckerwood"

who I think that was a very young L.Q. Jones (the peckerwood not the guy who yelled at him) who also appeared in the very recent film, Prarie Home Companion which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Okay, I'm in fear of repeating myself now. Maybe we should dig out some other classics to watch during the strike.

I watched another restored classic on HD DVD ... I'll create a separate thread about it.
That was L.Q. Jones who later directed the bizarre cult sci-fi film with Don Jonson, "A Boy and his Dog". Saw it at the Rivoli in the seventies in NYC. Not sure if it was good or bad but it was weird.
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